I’ve been studying Japanese for a very long time. Roughly 14 years (I honestly lost count.) My decision to follow a career in linguistics and work in localization means it’s a never-ending journey of learning.
But I also have a 9-5 job and don’t want to study Japanese every single day. Then again, I need to maintain my Japanese abilities somehow.
In recent years, working as a full-time localizer, I’ve found there are four important factors to maintaining your second language without burning out.
- Integrate Japanese into everyday life
- Make it enjoyable
- Be flexible
- Be kind to yourself
Integrate Japanese Into Everyday Life
Integrating Japanese into everyday life means using it on a regular basis (besides work) and turn using it into a habit rather than a chore.
I think it’s important to use Japanese outside of work for a few reasons; 1) we can engage with the language differently from translation, which 2) improves Japanese comprehension, 3) exposes us to new ideas, perspectives, and language, 4) and it’s fun!
It can be difficult to use Japanese if you’ve been working on a translation all day and your brain is fried. But the more you use Japanese for fun, the less exhausting it becomes. Consuming Japanese can then start to feed back into giving you energy and enjoyment.
How do you make using Japanese a habit? A good place to start is to take something you normally do and do it in Japanese.
For example, if you enjoy cooking you could look up recipes or cooking videos in Japanese. If you like reading novels or manga, read those in Japanese. You could even write your to-do lists for work/home in Japanese. (More suggestions in the next section.)
Keeping these small and varied will help you use the language in different ways without making it too taxing. The moment you start making it a chore is the moment you’re less likely to want to keep it up.
Make it Enjoyable
Again, if you make using Japanese a chore then it stops being fun. If it stops being fun, you’re more likely to care less, learn less, and quickly stop doing what you’re doing.
Here are some suggestions for engaging with Japanese for fun and how I’ve used them in my everyday life.
Read Japanese novels and manga
I’ve always been a bit of a book worm, but I had a bad habit of buying books and not reading them. But now I’ve made reading a habit too (a good one!) which has helped maintain and improve my Japanese without feeling like a chore!
Play games in Japanese
This is particularly great if you work with games, but if you enjoy games then why not play them in Japanese too? This is something I would like to do more often. The next game I play I’d like to play entirely in Japanese.
Watch YouTube in Japanese
I’ve stopped watching YouTube as much in recently years, but I found some Japanese book YouTubers that I loooove. This feeds into my book obsession and I’ve found some great recommendations through them. I also watch English YouTube if I’m feeling tired (or have run out of videos…)
Listen to Japanese Podcasts
I bike to work more and more because taking public transport has turned into such a risk. So, to pass the time I like to listen to a few different podcasts. I try to keep them varied and am not afraid to drop a podcast and pick up a new one if it’s boring me and I’m not feeling engaged. (I also have some English podcasts for when I’m super tired.)
Write lists and memos in Japanese
I am a forgetful person, so I write multiple daily and weekly to-do lists, so I don’t forget what I need to do, and I feel like I’m being productive! Writing my to-so lists and other memos in Japanese has been a great way to keep my hand-written Japanese up.
Sing Japanese songs
The karaoke boxes might all be closed but that doesn’t mean I can’t belt out some tunes in my shower! (I need to do this more, I miss karaoke…)
Talk to friends
I message friends in Japanese (mostly on LINE) and on the very rare occasion skype with them. It’s a nice way to stay connected while also keeping my conversational Japanese up.
You don’t need to do everything at once. You don’t need to be a master at speaking, listening, reading, and writing. But if there’s anything you want to focus on, then pick activities that can help support that.
Maybe one week if you feel like you’ve not spoken enough, so you could watch some YouTube videos and read your book aloud for ten minutes. Then the next week you feel like you’d like to read more, so pick up a manga you’ve been meaning to read and read it!
Feel free to be flexible with your activities.
Here are some ideas if there’s a particular area of your Japanese you’d like to work on.
- Read aloud – Randomly read that Japanese novel or a news report out loud.
- Talk/sing to yourself – Probably not in public.
- Casual shadowing – Try and repeat what someone is saying on TV, the news, YouTube, etc. But keep it casual.
- Podcasts – While taking a bath, cooking, on your commute.
- TV shows, movies, and anime – Watching with Japanese subtitles is a great way to confirm if you heard something correctly. Disney dubs are great for low stress!
- YouTube – There are lots of great videos out there by Japanese people on any topic you could hope for!
- Novels – Could pick something super easy, super hard, or something in-between. It’s up to you!
- Manga – Great for manga translators to sit down and relax.
- Games – Often has irregular Japanese while also being lots of fun!
- To-do lists and memos
- Journal or diary – If you’re inclined to write a daily or weekly diary.)
- Message friends
- Start a Japanese only social media account (lots of people have Twitter just for Japanese.)
You don’t have to stick with one thing either. You can easily mix and match depending on your mood.
Likewise, you don’t need to immerse yourself in Japanese all the time. As a translator it’s just as important that I keep up my English as much as my Japanese. You noticed I mentioned that I have English podcasts and YouTube that I engage with too? I also read one English novel and one Japanese novel concurrently.
This means I don’t burn my brain out completely and I keep up my English and Japanese skills!
Be Kind to Yourself
You don’t have to do any of this! And you shouldn’t feel bad for anything you do or don’t do.
Learning Japanese (any language, really) is a personal experience. There is no one way to do it. Which is why you shouldn’t listen to randos online (including me) without a pinch of salt. You’re free to pick and choose any advice to work out what works best for you.
Then again, the one piece of advice I hope you take away is to be kind to yourself. We are our own worst critiques and imposter syndrome can be very demoralizing.
If you do struggle with guilt and imposter syndrome then I highly recommend these Smart Habits for Translators podcasts:
- Smart Habits for Translators: Impostor Syndrome
- Smart Habits for Managing Social Anxiety and Perfectionism With Sadie Hall
That is my unsolicited advice on how to maintain your Japanese as a translator! Try and make using Japanese a fun habit, but don’t beat yourself up any reason. Languages are meant to be fun; they don’t only have to be tools for work.